The easiest way to tell the tell is simply from start to finish. So let's begin at the beginning and go on forward from there. Really, the story goes back to May 2005, when I ran San Diego Rock 'n Roll Marathon ready to take on the world. I crashed hard in that race, swore off marathons for a good while and decided I'd only run if I really ran. Fast forward to May 2006, and I ran my fastest half marathon ever on a tough Palos Verdes course. Renewed & rededicated, I trained hard for the 2006 Santa Clarita Marathon. I had a great race that day despite some knee pain & 90+ degree heat. But no PR. But it did give me the confidence to enter the Catalina Marathon, which had appealed to me and frightened me for so long. Why? Two pictures are worth two thousand words. If you're keeping score at home, that's more than 4000 feet climbing, 4000 feet descending. Now wonder I was scared!
[Forget all this, just show me the photos!]
But WOW! I did it. Man, I really did it. With no exaggeration, the 2007 Catalina Marathon was my best race ever, 4:28 and I'm sure I beat some guys who ran 3:00-3:30 marathons on flat courses. I returned the next 4 years, each one a different sort of adventure. In 2008, it was all about a very bumpy boat ride. In 2009 I was paced for 10+ miles by the other Jake (and his doppelganger). The next year my brother Aaron joined me, until the race started! That year we camped near the start, and after he ditched at mile 0.01, only to rejoin my 2.5 miles from the finish, which both pissed me off & gave me a little adrenaline boost (mostly the latter). Sam was about 10 marathons into Operation Jack, no idea how deep my involvement would be by the end of it. And I need to shout out to Vinay, for watching me finish 3 years straight! In 2011, the race was bittersweet. That was the carrot that kept me motivated through the worst winter of my life, and that other Jake returned to run/ walk/ jog the whole 26.2 miles was deeply meaningful for me. I worked so hard to return to the race, that I couldn't contemplate ever missing an event.
But yet, I did miss 2012. I never really got pumped for the race, so I wasn't in shape. Overworked, and given the substantial costs it just wasn't going to work. The change in race management (and name) was a big part of it, but only part of the story. In fact, I didn't run another marathon for 2 years, until yesterday. I kept busy, entering the Hermosa 24 in 2011 & 2012, and taking a swing at the Magic Mountain Man triathlon in 2011 & 2012 as well. After tweaking my hip during tri training, I let it heal for 2+ months with no road running. Then, just like that, ran the Operation Jack Half Marathon on December 26. My legs were THRASHED from the pounding, but my hip felt great. Game on. Fast forward 2.5 months and several hundred miles later over road and beach alike.
My journey began as I parked at the Long Beach parking structure for the Catalina Express ferry service. Then I caught a cab to San Pedro, and boarded the boat. The ocean was moderately bumpy, no real issues. Whale spouts were spotted! We headed direct to Two Harbors on a fine Friday afternoon, arriving after the rain had stopped falling in town. I got the key my cabin, dropped my bags there & left the door unlocked so the busted light bulb could be replaced. Ate too much at dinner, and soon headed to sleep. Now let's get this show on the road!
The Avalon boat arrived late, a monohull that took an extra 20-30 minutes battling the elements, and rocking the passengers something fierce. I've been there before and can feel their pain! Unlike years past, there was no boat arriving from Marina del Rey with mainland runners. Unless someone decided to arrive in Long Beach at 1 AM to hitch a ride over, if you ran the race you needed to spend the night on the island. More on this later. As I watched the arriving runners, Andrea from We ROCK! spotted me and I snapped a shot of her & her husband. We ROCK! trains Orange County students to run races up to marathons, and 2 of her students would tackle the distance that day. The late boat delayed the start only 5 minutes, so I wandered to the start-- still huddling in my "Obama" jacket & sweatpants, as the mercury was still south of 50. But the sun was out and the weather would be perfect on this day, likely not getting much above 55 with a nice breeze more or less all way. I saw Andrea again at the start, along with Julie Weiss, aka Marathon Goddess, who was running her penultimate marathon in her 52 for you fundraising effort-- 52 marathons in 52 weeks to raise money for Pancreatic Cancer research.
Then we lined up and away we went! The first 9-10 miles were fairly uneventful. I started slow but felt good. Unlike years past, the first 9 mile markers were spot on. Mile 10 was more like mile 9.6, and after that every mile seemed to be just a little bit longer. So yeah, wearing a GPS is still a good idea. Let's just post some photos and I'll get back to the text in a bit. Don't go away.
Sometimes pictures can't tell the story. Around mile 9, my gut started to bug me. And my hip was squawking. And my left knee was trying to get my attention. So I drank some extra Gatorade, took a leak, had a Lara bar and popped a couple Advil. By mile 14, I was in worse shape. My pulse was rising, my legs were slowing, I felt like I was about to have a cold sweat. I scanned the horizon desperately for a port-a-potty. the issue was in my GI tract, and I knew something had to give. But no luck. So I jogged at a pace I could maintain. Stopped drinking Gatorade and instead went for water & soggy pretzels. Stopped eating GU, since I suspected the sugar wasn't helping. And by the time I rolled up to the bottom of Pump House Hill at mile 17.5 or thereabouts, my stomach was settling and I was considered I may be ready to waltz past the port-a-potty atop the climb.
Then I power walked for 6 or 7 minutes to get past the nastiest bits of Pumphouse Hill, and that did the trick. Pretzels, water & a Kind fruit & nut bar and you know what? It worked! Stomach better. Aches & pains gone. No more odd sweats. And hot damn, I felt downright good! A sneak preview of my finish, hear are my times for the 6 marathons I've run on Catalina. I was 8 minutes off my 2008-2010 average, but nearly all that time was lost in the first 16. The last 7.5-8 miles, I walked maybe one time for one minute, and after 8 or 9 miles of being passed and passing in equal numbers, it was time to mow some people down!!!
So I ran. I ran the flats. I flew down the hills. I powered through the climbs and I kept moving. My training had paid off, and I really did feel better at 20 than I felt at 5. Atop the ridge, only a few climbs remained, and one big surprise (I've held in reserve). Oh there was a monstrous buffalo, 100 feet from the trail. A cloudless sky. A clear view of Palos Verdes and points nearby. A guy in a Lakers jersey again and again. And people again! After running alone through Middle Ranch, we were everywhere. Picture time!
So yeah, just after I passed Mile 22 and was looking forward to the final descent, there he was in bright orange. Vinay!!!! Much to my happy surprise, Vinay had jogged up the course 4 miles and waited for me. He joined along, and we kept moving. After a little gap, I slowed for just a minute and Vinay rejoined me and we ran the descent at a solid 8-9 minute/ mile pace until we reached town, trading the lead as Dr. Goyal gave me a very welcome shot of adrenaline. Awesome! Just before mile 25, Vinay slowed to deal with some phlegm, and I then raced to my FASTEST final mile ever in Catalina or perhaps any marathon, 8:35. Boom, finished just over 4:53 according to my clock.
If you're keeping score at home, that's 135 out of 413, almost precisely in the top third. Ran about 2:33 the first half, 2:20 the second half. Probably my best negative split in any race, ever. The 2nd half is undoubtedly easier, but I'd guess most slow as they get worn out. I may be slow, but I'll be damned if I didn't get stronger! Vinay and I had a fine lunch, then caught a boat back to Long Beach (thus completing the quadrangular journey), and with a surprising burst of energy I went to celebrate another occasion with Olivia into the late evening hours. Thus today, I'm completely beyond wiped out. I'm going to post a few more photos from the post race, then be back with a few words on the past, present & the future of the race itself. Hang in there, we're almost done!
So this was my 6th marathon, but the first time running the Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon, which began in 2012 after the conservancy refused to grant Pacific Sports a permit and decided to host the race themselves. Pacific Sports had run the race for more than a dozen years, and grew the race tremendously, with as many as 800 finishers some years. This year, just over 400 finished, down about 20% from the last years of the Pacific Sports events. I think there are a few reasons for that, and I really hope the organizers work to make it a great event for runners & walkers by putting them first. It seems to this observer is that some changes are geared more towards overtly supporting island businesses and forcing the runners to accept those compromises. I'm just going to hit on a few things here that I think the Conservancy & Spectrum should do to get more folks back to the island. Even if a smaller percentage spend the weekend in Avalon, I suspect that with 30-40% more runners the island will see greater benefits by making the event more runner friendly.
First, get a morning boat from Marina del Rey. I did that twice, catching 4:30 boats. That's early, but manageable. It's an expensive race with race fees and boat costs reaching $200. Some people don't do camping, and with many Avalon hotels requiring 2-night stays, that cost can quickly approach $1000 for the weekend. There are many enthusiastic runners & walkers that would LOVE the race, but can't justify the price. This race shouldn't be excluded to only the affluent. This year's "morning" boat left from a remote terminal in Long Beach at 2 AM, which meant 4.5 hours on the boat and no sleep anyways. It wasn't a realistic option.
Second, move the award ceremony to earlier in the day. It was held at 3:30 this year. That's nice for the last of the finishers. But for everyone else? Those not spending the night would catch a 2:05 or 3:45 boat to Long Beach, or wait until 6 and not get back to mainland until well after dark on a very long. This seemed, in part, like another way to "encourage" runners to stay longer on the island. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think the runners would prefer a much earlier ceremony.
Third, bring back the catamaran for the morning boat from Avalon. It's often a tough ride to the start. So early in the morning, in the dark, makes it even more likely to get sick runners. Those catamarans give a smoother ride. If the race was about Runners First, there would be a catamaran, no question.
Fourth, market the race more effectively. Mud runs, Tough Mudder and Spartan races are all the rage. This is tougher than any of those. Word of mouth is great for the long term, but the event needs a big push now.
Fifth, bring back the real name of the race. I know there are lawsuits going on; those are a real drag on the event. Work like heck to reach a fair settlement, and recognize that the name itself has value.
And more should run. From start to finish, the race was smooth & well run, so props to Spectrum Sports & the Conservancy and all the volunteers. Water stations seemed well stocked to this mid-packer. The course was marked, the mile markers were... well, always an adventure! So I have no issue with the race itself. It's all the ancillary stuff that makes the race than appealing to runners. Work to accommodate all runners across the economic spectrum, and this great race will get back to being the 800 runner event it deserves to be. With that, I close with a few more of my favorite photos.